Thanksgiving Preparation Tips

While (thankfully) I’m not hosting Thanksgiving this year, in the 5 years since college I have hosted Thanksgiving twice (and once it was in Hawaii and I fed 15 people, most of whom were prior Army football players and had very large appetites).  Juggling all the side dishes and the turkey can be stressful for even the most seasoned chefs, so here are a few tricks that have helped me immensely over the years.

Thanksgiving 2011 in Hawaii.  Thanks to good planning I was able to cook for 15 people (by myself), get a 13 mile training run in, and was dressed and drinking wine by the time everyone showed up.

1.  Backwards Plan.  Saying this sort of makes me cringe because I sound like I’m back in the Army, but backwards planning is a lifesaver and will ensure you get all your dishes out at the right time.  To see what I mean, below are my notes from Thanksgiving in 2011.  They worked so well that I used them again in 2013, and will likely use them for the rest of my life.  Timing is everything, so start with the time you want everyone to start eating, and back off your cooking and prep times from there.  

Note: that’s military time you see there.

2.  Prep Early.  Make all that you possibly can the day before Thanksgiving.  That way all you have to do is pop it in the oven so you can concentrate on the items you truly need to make the day of.  Below is my tried and true Thanksgiving prep plan.

3.  Defrost your Turkey Early.  Turkeys take a long time to thaw, so start it a few days early.  And while I’m on the subject of turkeys, make sure you pull the bags out of the cavities of the turkey.  Feel all around the big cavity and the small cavity, because you don’t want to accidentally cook a bag of gross bits or a random turkey neck.

4.  Use a Turkey Bag.  You know those Reynolds Oven Bags that are made for cooking turkeys?  They sound hokey but they are the best invention ever.  The turkey turns out nice and juicy, clean up is easier, and the turkey cooks a good bit faster.  I promise, you need to give these a shot!

5.  Make Gravy with the Turkey Juices.  Don’t waste money on a store bought packet of powdered gravy (yuck).  You can make easy and delicious gravy using not much more than turkey juices and flour.

6.  Accept Help.  Sometimes it’s harder to delegate than to just do everything yourself, but if someone offers to bring something, LET THEM!  Have them bring the appetizers, wine, or desserts, that way you can concentration on the actual meal preparation.

7.  Consider Possible Shortcuts.  I like to fix everything myself, but sometimes you just need a little help.  I’ve found that the frozen mashed sweet potatoes at Trader Joe’s are really good and save you some time, and frozen rolls are often just as popular as homemade rolls. 

Happy Thanksgiving y’all!  And good luck to all of you who playing host on the big day! 

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Katie Vail
Katie Vail

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  1. November 24, 2014 / 7:54 pm

    Since it's normally a small gathering at my parents' place, (my mom, my dad, my brother, and I), my mom usually just does a turkey breast in the crockpot then finishes it in the oven for the beautiful golden color. Using one of those Reynolds crockpot liners (another great invention!), clean-up is super easy and you don't have to watch the oven or tie it up for as long as you would if you did the entire cook-time in it.

  2. November 24, 2014 / 9:05 pm

    I SWEAR by those crockpot liners! They seriously make clean-up a breeze for your slow cooker.

  3. November 26, 2014 / 2:57 pm

    Ha. A-Dubs! ­čśë

    I know I already sent this to you Dubs, but Katie we were cracking up about this video that one of Cam's old PSGs sent tonight:

    Thought you and Tom might find this a bit humorous…

    Happy Thanksgiving!

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